Business connections, but for the arts

By Jessica Riegel
The Daily Pennsylvanian
December 11, 2007

When College freshman Ben Epstein is asked what he would like to do after graduation, he says he wants to write.

But on a campus where career paths like business and pre-med take center stage, such interests are often dismissed as dead-end hobbies.

"People say 'that's nice, but impractical,'" Epstein said. "One person was like, 'oh, so you're doing the starving artist thing.'"

A new project at Penn aims to change that perception.

RealArts@PENN is enhancing opportunities for artistic students to gain real-world experience and connections.

A project of the College, it will offer programs that encourage students to pursue creative talents and apply them outside the classroom. This summer, RealArts will send six students to internships at venues such as MTV and Rolling Stone magazine.

"The ideal student is extremely creative but has not yet had a lot experience in the business side of art," RealArts coordinator Mingo Reynolds said.

The selection process includes a review by RealArts staff and other campus organizations. Host venues will help with final decisions.

Alumni and faculty connections helped cultivate arrangements with host organizations for the internships.

For example, this summer's Brooklyn Films intern will work with accomplished director Jon Avnet, a Wharton alumnus.

Internships are open to all majors and participants will receive a $2,500 stipend from Penn, which opens access to competitive spots because companies don't have to pay the interns, Reynolds said.

The coordinators hope participants will return with fresh ideas for projects that connect curriculum to practical application as RealArts expands its reach on and off campus.

English professor and RealArts program director Al Filreis said the internships are more about letting students put "theory into practice" than about resumes and salaries.

He also described future plans for new courses and workshops with faculty and major figures in the business of art.

"We want Penn to be involved in elevating the arts," he said.

Thus far, Reynolds said, student response to the program has been overwhelmingly positive.

"You can almost hear the excitement buzzing in my inbox," she said.